Right-wing columnist and current Fox News contributor John Solomon has served as a major conduit for the many conspiracy theories President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has pushed about Ukraine, and Solomon’s writing in The Hill has come up frequently in the impeachment inquiry hearings. One thing is clear: Multiple witnesses — a diverse group ranging from nonpartisan officials to Republican appointees — have called out the false narratives in his stories.
Solomon’s reporting pushed conspiracy theories alleging corruption by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and alleging that Ukraine was involved in 2016 election interference. And his work relied heavily on, among others, then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko. In his testimony on October 3, Kurt Volker, who served as U.S. ambassador to NATO under President George W. Bush and then served for over two years under Trump as the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, said of Solomon’s reporting that Lutsenko was “making things up” to play the Trump administration and protect his own political position:
My opinion of Prosecutor General Lutsenko was that he was acting in a self-serving manner, frankly making things up, in order to appear important to the United States, because he wanted to save his job. He was on his way out with the election of a new President. You could read the writing on the wall. This was before [current Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky was elected, but you could see the wave of popularity.
He had been put in place by the former President, Petro Poroshenko. I think there were a couple motivations to this, but I think most important was that he would stay in office probably to prevent investigations into himself for things that he may have done as prosecutor general.
And so by making himself seem important and valuable to the United States, the United States then might object or prevent him from being removed by the new President.
Solomon had also claimed that Biden had withheld a billion dollars worth of aid to Ukraine until the government fired then-top prosecutor Viktor Shokin in order to shut down an investigation into Burisma Holdings and Biden’s son Hunter, who was on the company’s board.
In his testimony, Volker made clear that, in fact, Biden’s push for Shokin’s firing in 2016 was a legitimate U.S. (and also international) policy interest: “And it was a general assumption — I was not doing U.S. policy at the time — but a general assumption among the European Union, France, Germany, American diplomats, U.K., that Shokin was not doing his job as a prosecutor general. He was not pursuing corruption cases.”
Also discussing Solomon in her testimony was former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, whom Solomon had targeted in his work with a major smear campaign falsely alleging that she had provided a do-not-prosecute list to Ukrainian prosecutors. In her October 11 testimony, Yovanovitch professed there was a certain puzzlement in the bureaucracy over what Solomon’s articles in The Hill were even about:
Q: So after you learned about this in The Hill, did you have any additional conversations with people, either Americans in the embassy, or Ukrainian officials about the reports?
A: Well, in the embassy we were trying to figure out what was going on. I also, of course, was in touch with folks in Washington at the NSC, and at the State Department to try to figure out what was this, what was going on.
Q: What did you learn?
A: Not much. I mean, I think people were not sure. On the 25th, the day after The Hill article came out, the State Department had a pretty strong statement that said that Mr. Lutsenko's allegations were a fabrication, and then, you know, over the weekend, there was a lot more in the media. And, you know, the State Department was trying to figure out how to respond, I think, during that time and the following week. But I didn't get very much information.
Yovanovitch further explained that the media narratives against her and her office had become so intense that “the State Department did not feel that they could actually even issue, in the face of all of this, a full-throated kind of statement of support for me. ... There was concern that the rug would be pulled out from underneath the State Department if they put out something publicly.”
And Fiona Hill, a former aide to then-national security adviser John Bolton, discussed on October 14 the absurd conspiracy theories that Solomon and Lutsenko had peddled relating to alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election:
Q: And what did you understand that interest to have been when you initially learned about it?
A: To be honest, I had a hard time figuring out quite what it was about because there were references to George Soros; there were references to 2016; and then there were all kinds of references to — when I first read the article in The Hill, which I think was in late March of 2019, it was referring to do-not-prosecute lists and statements from the Ukrainian prosecutor, Mr. Lutsenko, none of which I'd ever heard of anything about before.
Q: And at this point, what was your impression of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko?
A: I hadn't really formed much of a personal opinion of him, but certainly from the information that I had, not just from our embassy but from also colleagues at the State Department and others across the analytical community, there were clearly some problems with this gentleman in the way that he was conducting his work.
Hill also tied Solomon’s work — and Giuliani’s obsession with it — to the far-right conspiracy mongering from the likes of InfoWars host Alex Jones:
Q: Well, some of the results about the information Mr. Giuliani was proffering —
Q: — you testified yielded the unpleasant result of Ambassador Yovanovitch being recalled?
A: Oh, Ambassador Yovanovitch being recalled. Well, yes, if you believe in conspiracy theories and, as you said, you know, and you don't have any —
A: — alternative ways of fact checking or looking into issues, if you believe that George Soros rules the world and, you know, basically controls everything, and, you know, if you —
Q: Was Mr. Giuliani pushing that?
A: He mentioned George Soros repeatedly, and The Hill article as well did and many others.
Q: But just the March 24th Hill article?
A: I think it was the 20th or something like that, that I saw.
A And I was very sensitized to this issue because in the whole first year at the NSC —
A: — more people, myself included, were being accused of being Soros moles. And, indeed, I'm out on InfoWars again with Roger Stone, Alex Jones purporting that indeed from the very beginning I've been involved in a George Soros-led conspiracy.
Things got really scathing in the October 15 congressional interview with George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state and a U.S. foreign service officer since 1992. Kent said his name had been connected to an alleged do-not-prosecute list of Ukrainians that Yovanovitch supposedly gave to Ukrainian officials in an outright (and sloppy) forgery:
THE CHAIRMAN: Can you tell us what that letter was and what you know of its provenance?
MR. KENT: Well, that was part of series of news articles that came out I believe starting March 20th, this spring. There with a number of articles that were initially led by John Solomon of The Hill, who gave — who took an interview with Yuriy Lutsenko earlier in March. And so, there was, I believe, video somewhere, there certainly were pictures of them doing interview. And it's part of a series of articles, it was an intense campaign. One of those articles released because the interview on the first day Lutsenko had claimed that Ambassador Yovanovitch had given him a list in their first meeting of people not to prosecute. Several days later, a Iist of names was circulated on the internet, with — the photograph had a copy of my temporary business card that I used for a short period of time in 2015. So it was a real — it didn't look like a regular business card. It was the one that we did on the embassy printer. So I think the card was genuine, and someone attached that to a list of names that was a hodgepodge of names.
Some of the people I had to Google, I had not heard of. Half the names were misspelled. Not the way that any American, or even Ukrainian, or Russian would transliterate Ukrainian names. My best guess, just from a linguistics semantic point is the person who created the fake list was either Czech or Serbian.
THE CHAIRMAN: So when you referred earlier to a forged letter, you were referring to the forged do-not-prosecute list?
MR. KENT: That was — yeah. This was the — it wasn't a letter, it was just a list of names with my actual business card attached.
Kent then said that Solomon’s stories, based on interviews with Lutsenko, were simply made-up:
Q: That original John Solomon article, was that based on accurate information?
A: It was based on an interview with Yuriy Lutsenko.
Q: And was the information that Mr. Lutsenko provided accurate, to your knowledge?
A: No. It was, if not entirely made up in full cloth, it was primarily non-truths and non-sequiturs.
And finally, on October 29, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, told Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) that the idea of a do-not-prosecute list coming from Yovanovitch, “frankly, based on my experience with her, seemed preposterous.” Indeed, she was more active in fighting corruption in Ukraine — and elements in the Ukrainian administration seem to have been seeking to undermine her as a result.
MR. [LEE] ZELDIN: Earlier at today's testimony there was a reference made to a John Solomon article, and I don't want to put words in your mouth. Did you say that you believed that was a false narrative?
LT. COL. VINDMAN: Yes.
MR. ZELDIN: And that was based on authoritative sources?
LT. COL. VINDMAN: Yes.
MR. ZELDIN: And what were those authoritative sources?
LT. COL. VINDMAN: I talked to my interagency colleagues from State and the Intelligence Community, and asked them for some background on if there was anything substantive in this area.
MR. ZELDIN: And did they state that everything was false on did they just say that parts of it were false?
LT. COL. VINDMAN: So the parts that were most problematic were claims —-- I'm trying to remember now because it unfolded over two periods, March and then again in April, which resulted in Ambassador Yovanovitch being recalled. So there was an element in which Ambassador Yovanovitch proffered a no prosecute list, which frankly, based on my experience with her, seemed preposterous.
There was the claim that, you know, this ludicrous claim of the fact that she was embezzling funds, withholding some $4 million from Lutsenko and the reform funds to reform the prosecutor general's office. But reaIIy, frankly, aIl of this began because in the March timeframe, very close to the Presidential election, Ambassador Yovanovitch became highly critical of President Poroshenko and the justice system because one of Poroshenko's closest aides, a member of the National Security and Defense Council, his son was implicated in a corruption scandal in which they drastically inflated the cost of military goods that were then, you know, given to the cash-strapped — that were sold to the cash-strapped Ministry of Defense for use on the front. The whole thing just was, you know, it smelled really rotten.
When. Zeldin asked if anything in the articles might be true, Vindman did not hold back in his disgust.
MR. ZELDIN: Did your sources, though, say that everything was false or just parts of it were false?
LT. COL. VINDMAN: I think all the key elements were false.
MR. ZELDIN: Just so I understand what you mean when you say key elements. Are you referring to everything John Solomon stated or just some of it?
LT. COL. VINDMAN: All the elements that I just laid out for you. The criticisms of corruption were false.
MR. ZELDIN: You mentioned —
LT. COL. VINDMAN: Were there more items in there, frankly, Congressman? I don't recall. I haven't looked at the article in quite some time, but you know, his grammar might have been right.
MR. ZELDIN: Were any of your — are you saying that every substantive statement made by John Solomon was false or are you saying —
MR. NOBLE: If you want to put the article in front of him so he can review it, then do that. But he just said he doesn't remember.
MR. ZELDIN: WeIl, the last answer seems to indicate that everything other than —-- everything substantive was false, I just wanted to clarify.
LT. COL. VINDMAN: I've been a little light-hearted about 8 hours into this, so I apologize. Is this a record? Not yet. Okay. But anyway, I apologize, Congressman. I joke around a little bit, so I apologize.
But as far as I recall, the key elements that Mr. Solomon put in that story that were again proffered by Lutsenko, a completely self-serving individual to save his own skin, and to advance the interests of the President, more than likely actually with the backing of the President of Ukraine, and extremely harmful to Ukraine’s own interests, all those elements, as far as I recall, were false.